Listening to My Heart

After the World Cup final, I took some time off from the gym. It is important to do this periodically to keep from overtraining one’s body and risking muscle fatigue or injury. I had only planned to be out of the gym for one week. But I ended up having to scramble and complete multiple documents for various government entities, so one week off became two weeks. I did finally manage to send off everything to its proper place, ensuring that all of my services remained intact. By late July, I was eager to get back into the gym.

In the stationary bike I had finally found a cardiovascular exercise I could enjoy. It wasn’t hard on my joints and it didn’t require me to advance my foot quickly, as with the treadmill. It seemed like something I could do indefinitely. I decided to try a longer warmup than my standard five to ten minutes. It was hard to get to ten minutes, but I wasn’t breathing too heavily or in too much pain, so I resolved to keep going to twenty.

I have always found cardio workouts to be extremely boring, so I get through then by playing videos on my phone. With the upright bike, my left hand could engage the heart monitor. Remembering how my physical therapists had told me to keep my heart rate above 100 on other equipment, I applied the same concept to my stationary bike workout. My heart rate would creep down into the 90s if I pedaled too slowly, but I wanted to set the resistance high enough to really make my calf and ankle work. Trying to keep these separate variables in balance was enough of a challenge that. I stopped obsessing over the clock, and before I knew it, I was at twenty minutes.

Ordinarily I do just enough of a warmup on the bike so that my body is ready to begin physical activity. After twenty minutes I felt truly alive. I was sweating profusely, my heart was pumping. I could feel effort in my left calf. Even my foot was stepping higher. Recovering leg function was going to be so much easier if I began with this amount of physical activity before I even started weightlifting. Over the next couple of days, I would push my body to 20 minutes, then 30 minutes on the bike. I did less than that some days, but my minimum was now 20 minutes.

I wanted to do more upper body movements, so I claimed a rowing machine. This one started with the handles turned up and away. As I pulled them towards me, I could feel my scapulae. The exercise felt wonderful. I could almost feel my left side expand back to normal. This movement was perfect for ending the constriction in my latissimus dorsi. I did four sets, imagining my back getting wider with each one.

On the first of August, I had my annual checkup. My blood pressure had been pretty good over the last few months, but I really wanted to get my weight. I had lost very little weight in the four years since my stroke. I had begun at 258 pounds, and nothing had changed in over three years. After a month of doing lunges this year, I was down twelve pounds. I managed to put five of it back on to end up at 251. But after a couple of weeks committing to a lot more cardio, I was ready for another weigh in.

My exam was early afternoon on a cool day. I was able to take Mary out for an extended period of time, shower, and eat breakfast. By the time my ride dropped me off at the clinic, I was relaxed and expecting good numbers. The nurse weighed me and told me that I was 242, down 16 pounds. I wanted to get down to 230 by the end of the year, so my goal for the next year was to lose another ten pounds. If I could get back to my playing weight of 215, it would be a bonus. I have never been one to obsess over weight, but it gave me something else to focus on while waiting for my muscles to rehabilitate.

Next the nurse took my blood pressure. It was 126/78. My oxygen level was 98%. The doctor came in and listened to my lungs; they were fine as well. She talked with me about my life and blog. I left the exam feeling wonderful. For the first time since my stroke, I had no additional health concerns to discuss. I was now taking personal control of my own health.

Mary was running low on dog food, so my next stop was the pet shop. I got off of the bus, grabbed a shopping cart and looked for the dog food aisle. Then it occurred to me that my eyesight was functioning so much better that I was just reading the signs. Ordinarily I would have had to close one eye, but my double vision wasn’t bothering me. I went right to the aisle and had no difficulty pulling Mary’s food from the shelf. I paid for the food and left it with the clerk while I went get something to eat.

I had lived in this area during my first year back in Minneapolis, so I would often come to this pet shop or to this sandwich shop. During those days, my left leg was so weak that I had to be driven from one location to the other, even though they were in the same strip mall. It would even frighten me to step up onto or down from the curb. Once I started feeling strong enough to walk from one shop to the other, I was still nervous about falling down and being vulnerable.

But it had been two months since the last time I was here and over a month since I had begun doing lunges. My leg strength had improved noticeably, and my confidence was off the charts. I was able to step up onto the curb easily with my left leg. My walking speed had increased dramatically as well. I no longer had to worry about my foot dragging, so I was much less of a fall risk. I strode out of the pet shop and walked down the sidewalk to go enjoy a sandwich. I was lighter, stronger, and ready to take on life.

My day had been very productive between the numbers at my checkup, picking up food for Mary, and walking with much better form. I looked forward to taking Mary outdoors for half an hour, then taking a well-deserved nap. But when I got back to my apartment, I saw that Mary had puked on my bed. I was disgusted and upset with her, but I knew I didn’t have time to spare.

I stripped the sheet from the bed and threw it into my laundry bag. Next, I sprayed bleach cleanser directly onto the soiled area of the mattress. Then I wet a towel with hot water dabbed the area. I sprayed more cleanser on the area to pre-treat it, then I leashed Mary and took her outside. I let her use the bathroom and kept her out for a long time, just in case.

I hadn’t had to do my own laundry since the stroke. I knew where the laundry facilities were and how much it would cost to do a load. So I gathered all of the white towels and threw them in with the sheet, and headed for the elevator.

In the laundry room, I found the first open machine. I loaded my things inside and carefully read the instructions before I added quarters. I felt a bit silly, but I didn’t want to assume anything and screw up. Following the directions, I poured in detergent and added the quarters. The machine whirred to life. I waited for the wash cycle to complete, then I moved my sheet and towels to the dryer. After I started the dryer, I returned upstairs.

I put hot water on the towel again and scrubbed more vigorously. I scrubbed and scrubbed until I was sure that I could only smell bleach. Then I aimed the fan directly over the spot, knowing it wouldn’t be dry until the next day.

Once my laundry was dry, I brought upstairs and took Mary out one last time. The sky was black, but I had done so much additional work that I was no longer even tired. It had been a long day. I had mapped out a schedule to do things at several locations and returned home to find additional unplanned tasks. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I had figured out what steps I needed to take and had set about accomplishing them.

It was 11:00 before I stopped Mary from running around in the warm breeze. Since my mattress wasn’t dry, I placed a small blanket on the side of the mattress that was dry. I lay down knowing that it was going to be a very uncomfortable night’s sleep. But this seemed insignificant with how much comfort I had regained in moving about the world.

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